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Still Life: The Complexities of Emotional Health

A theatrical dive into the shadows of womanhood.

A 30th birthday? What’s there to fear about hitting that milestone? But what if it’s a convergence of all things going wrong? 

Society’s expectations grow heavier with each passing year. Every added responsibility feels like a suffocating weight. Your once-familiar room now feels estranged and echoes with a profound emptiness. Imagine commemorating three decades of existence in a state that mirrors death more than life itself. Welcome to Still Life, a gripping theatrical experience freshly translated from French to English, debuting at the 2024 Wildside Festival in Montreal.

“It is a big play, that jumps around in time, and through the psychological and physical states of a woman trying to understand what is happening to her,” said Emma Tibaldo, director of Still Life.

Annually, the Wildside Festival—taking  place from Jan. 18 to Feb. 8 this year—spotlights independent and experimental theatrical works from Quebec and beyond. Still Life is the starting act of a total of six plays, and it was written by playwrights Marie-Ève Milot and Marie-Claude St-Laurent of Théâtre de l’Affamée. It is currently in the process of being reworked for its official release this fall.

The play features five actors—a main character and four others that serve as a chorus—simultaneously portraying the protagonist’s inner thoughts as well as those of the other characters in the narrative. 

The use of lighting is significant, creating intense moments of claustrophobia in the protagonist’s mental landscape. Thoughts may seem fragmented and elusive, yet they resonate with a raw sense of authenticity, even when they verge on the surreal.

Scene from Still Life, The protagonist isolated in her apartment shares a moment with her concerned best friend. Photo courtesy of Talisman Theatre

From Hannah Wilke to Joseph Beuys, the main character effectively employs art references to vividly capture universal feelings of anxiety. 

Such was the case for Nidaa Badwan, a Palestinian artist who voluntarily confined herself to her 100-square-feet apartment for 20 months in 2013. Badwan tried to construct her own reality through art as a form of liberation from the constraints of womanhood in Gaza. Her experience became a recurring reference in the life of Still Life’s protagonist, mirroring aspects of her own emotional turmoil. 

But capturing such intense emotions presents its challenges. Cary Lawrence, a cast member of the play,  spoke about the potential impact that embodying such raw emotions may have on an actor’s emotional health: “Especially when we were rehearsing the chorus work, we were heavy breathing to the point where we were so lightheaded,” said Lawrence. “You know as actors, that’s our job—to take the words and physicalize them by putting a lot of meaning behind them.”

Director Tibaldo expressed her aspirations for what the piece communicates to its audience upon release in the fall. “I want folks to be aware of the unpredictable effects of anxiety and depression. The way it can cut you down, and completely disempower you,” said director Tibaldo. “The improbable becomes that which can save us. A chance meeting, an extreme act, a possible connection. Maybe just being open to the unexpected can be enough to pull us through.” 

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Arts Theatre

Manikanetish: What it means to belong

See the play at Jean-Duceppe Theatre from March 8 to April 8

Manikanetish is based on Naomi Fontaine’s novel by the same name. An author and teacher, Fontaine has published four books and translated various others. Manikanetish is her second novel, published in 2017, and her most recent work Shuni was published in 2019. 

This play is set in Uashat, a small Inuit community in Northern Quebec close to Sept-Îles. 

Most scenes are set in a high school classroom as the protagonist, Yammie, recalls her beginnings as a teacher to her son. 

Manikanetish discusses the author’s life as a teacher, while centering the voices of the children she teaches. Themes of death, resilience and belonging dominate. 

The resilience of these children is notably highlighted by the death of several of their relatives throughout the story. 

Fontaine plays a central role in the play, though her character is taken on by another actress. She acts as a parallel to herself, an omniscient character, of what she wished she had said. 

Though originally from Uashat, coming home to her community, Yammie finds that she is not accepted. She only speaks a bit of Innu, and admits not wanting to speak it because of her accent. She struggles with having left the community to study, and upon returning notices that the community has changed: she does not know anyone and is not trusted. 

This is notable in a scene where one student is disgusted that the teacher does not know why one of the students is struggling because their parent is dying. The community is so small and close that everyone knows everything about everyone, and Yammie at first does not fit into that space. 

Along the play, the director parallels the past and the present: what Yammie’s life could have been and what it is not. She voices spending her nights alone drinking wine, with a partner back in Quebec City, not making any time for herself. 

The first part of the play is conducted by her sadness and not understanding why her dream of being a teacher in Uashat is not what she thought. The second part focuses on the students’ strength facing the various hardships thrown at them. 

As the play goes on, she slowly constructs a relationship with her class as they start to understand her intentions. 

For instance, when Yammie shouts at a student for sleeping in class, Fontaine’s character mirrors her and talks to the student in an understanding tone, offering a more sympathetic response. This serves as representation of what she wished she had said in those difficult moments. 

The audience gets to know six characters, their perils and their passions, their difficult upbringing in a remote town far from access to healthcare, and surrounded by discrimination. For instance, one student with a child brings up the injustice of their lack of access to proper medical care, while another speaks about the few future prospects they have because of the racism they suffer in school. 

The play concludes with united voices saying “our voices are heard,” both defying the public to question their existence and showing the strength of their resilience.  

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Arts

Showcasing talent from concept to performance

Concordia theatre students discuss One-Act Play rehearsals and learning experience

Members of Concordia’s theatre program delivered engaging, heart-wrenching, captivating performances as the department’s One-Act Play Festival brought four plays to life from Nov. 3 through 11.

The theatre department’s second edition of the festival featured well-known contemporary Canadian and absurdist work, as well as pieces constructed by the students themselves. Students across the entire program took part in productions of Beckett Shorts, If We Were Birds, The Freddie Stories and Love In Seven Languages. They applied to be in the festival at the end of last year’s winter term, were assigned to one of the four plays and auditioned for specific roles. From there, workshops and rehearsals were held up until opening day. The One-Act Play Festival is a public performance project (known as a PPP in the theatre department). PPPs give students the option to take part in projects to gain experience and academic credits.

Beckett Shorts

Beckett Shorts is comprised of six short plays written by legendary absurdist playwright Samuel Beckett. The cast was divided into groups of two or three, and each group performed one of the pieces. In each short, the stage was mostly dark and very minimally lit, sometimes only for a moment. According to the performance’s pamphlet, “Beckett’s work offers a bleak, tragicomic outlook on human existence.”

The spoken aspects of the performances conveyed raw human emotion while leaving the viewer to puzzle over what exactly they had witnessed. Short, sporadic outbursts paired with prolonged silences created an engaging and at times unsettling experience. This is a key characteristic of Beckett’s work. In the show’s program, director Clea Minaker wrote that “to step inside of any one of these ‘Beckettian’ compositions [is] also to submit oneself to an ‘authored’ body.” In Beckett Shorts, the cast and crew surrendered themselves to expression in absurdity.

If We Were Birds

Like Beckett Shorts, If We Were Birds stuck quite closely to the original play (written by Erin Shields). The piece, however, would definitely be described as more conventional theatre, as Johan DeNora, a third-year theatre performance student pointed out. If We Were Birds deals with extremely brutal and intense subject matter, and viewers were warned about scenes of infanticide, misogyny and sexual violence. When asked if performing such subject matter seemed daunting or intimidating, fifth-year theatre performance student Arianna Markle said she was actually empowered by being able to tell the story. “For me it was, ‘I want to be that voice,’” she said. “There are the experiences of so many women standing behind me, beside me, with me and through me [in this role]. It’s humbling for sure.” Markle added that she finds the play to be especially relevant due to the recent increase in discussion about cases of sexual violence.

Maureen Adelson, a second-year acting student, initially found it hard to approach her role as Bleeding, because she has “never gone through anything as traumatic and as tragic” as what her character endures in the piece. After doing some research on the historic events that the character was based off of, however, Adelson said her mindset changed and she became determined to tell her character’s story.

DeNora added that he is extremely pleased with the work the entire ensemble put into the production, especially given it was such an intense piece. “This is a lot of heavy material for people who are still training, and there’s always a fear of not giving it the respect it deserves,” he said. “I’m so glad that we have managed to get it to a point where I think it really is respectful and important.”

The Freddie Stories

The Freddie Stories was adapted from a graphic novel by Lynda Barry and converted into a theatre piece by the ensemble and crew. Also directed by Minaker, the play follows a young boy named Freddie who struggles with mental disabilities. It takes the audience through the boy’s daily life, revealing that he gets bullied by classmates and abused by his mother. This piece effectively deals with intense themes while presenting a lightheartedness that could only be expressed through young characters.

Emma Corber, a fourth-year theatre major, said that because her group started without a set script, they spent most of their rehearsal time in workshops determining how to convert the novel into a theatre piece. Though at times the process was rushed and stressful, Corber insisted this experience allowed her to grow as a performer in ways she had never been able to in previous productions. The piece incorporates puppetry and mask work, which were new disciplines for most of the cast, she added.

Caitlin Stever, a third-year theatre and development student, was immediately interested in The Freddie Stories and was tasked with the job of stage manager. “Talking about childhood trauma through the lens of childhood is super interesting to me,” she said. Stever found the entire adaptation process extremely challenging, but was also able to exercise her creative abilities to a great degree. “A hundred per cent of my energy, and my whole human force and thought and emotion have been put into this show because of that collaborative process that demanded so much of me, and I’d say a lot of the actors felt that same way,” Stever said.

Love In Seven Languages

Sketches of the costume designs for Love In Seven Languages by Aurora Torok. Photo by Mackenzie Lad.

The ensemble of Love In Seven Languages were also very involved in the creation of the piece, from writing the script to developing its overarching themes. Preliminary workshops were held where the students would brainstorm ideas together and develop their collective vision for the play. “Most of our lines [in the piece], someone said at some point in a writing exercise,” according to third-year theatre and development student Eli Gale. “It’s a little spooky.” Gale said being so involved in the creative process allowed each performer to feel especially connected to the part they play. “When you’re acting in a character that is so close to your own reality, how do you separate what is and what isn’t there?” she asked.

This piece was not advised for viewers under the age of 18 because of mature content and mentions of suicide. The story follows seven royal siblings who are locked in a room of their father’s castle and are never allowed to leave. When they become of-age, the siblings are told they will be married off one by one, which causes them to consider drastic measures in order to escape.

Aurora Torok, the designer of the show, worked closely with literature the play was based off of to construct a minimal but stunning setting. She began designs for the set and costumes in the summer, and worked alongside the cast and crew until the performances began. “There are so many challenges that come with it,” Torok said. “But the fact that the designers were ready to take them all on was fantastic.”

 

Feature photo by Maggie Hope

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Arts

Delving into queer experiences

Dane Stewart debuts a self-written, directed and produced endeavour

While reflecting on the intent behind writing his newest theatrical piece, Dane Stewart expressed that he wanted “to combine Foucauldian, feminist, queer theorists and their texts with lived experiences of people in Montreal.”

As one of Concordia’s recent graduates of the individualized master’s program, Stewart is set to debut his play at the MainLine Theatre on Sept. 21. The production, titled The History of Sexuality, explores themes of power, sex and queerness in the context of student life in Montreal. The plot follows five graduate students who are enrolled in a seminar studying the philosophy of French intellectual Michel Foucault. Stewart said he had studied Foucault’s work at Concordia himself and became particularly inspired by the philosopher’s book, also titled The History of Sexuality.

Foucault’s philosophy, along with a number of theatrical pieces using a technique called verbatim theatre prompted Stewart to start writing his own play. Verbatim theatre involves the playwright conducting a series of interviews, transcribing the interviews and using the direct quotes to script the play. So, as Stewart explained, the actors in a verbatim theatre piece would speak the words of the interviewees.

Dane Stewart wrote the play as part of his thesis for his master’s degree. Photo by Alex Hutchins.

Typically, this method is used in documentary-style plays so actors portray the real-life people whose words they are speaking. Stewart, however, decided to use the verbatim theatre technique in order to adapt real-life experiences into the lives of fictional characters. He conducted interviews with several people within Montreal’s queer community about their experiences. Then, Stewart extracted sections of these interviews to be spoken by the characters in his play. By doing so, the playwright added, he was able to include a variety of perspectives outside of his own without needing to speak for anyone.

Stewart called this technique “fictionalized verbatim theatre,” although he recognizes that he may not be the only playwright using it. He developed this method while working on his thesis for his master’s degree, and received a grant from CALQ (Conseil des arts et des lettres du Québec) to further improve it himself. The grant allowed him and his team to hold workshops in order to explore and develop this writing technique. With this help, they were able to write several drafts and spend time perfecting Stewart’s work.

After finishing his thesis and graduating from the master’s program where he studied theatre, communications, and gender and sexuality studies through an interdisciplinary program, Stewart began working towards showing his play at the MainLine Theatre. He worked alongside Michelle Soicher, a fourth-year undergraduate theatre student who took on the role of assistant director and stage manager to gain experience as well as academic credits.

“Queerness, non-normative sexual identity and sexual practice have been a big part of my life. It’s also been a very challenging part at times,” Stewart said.

Although drawing upon his own experience as someone who identifies as queer was extremely useful, Stewart said he wanted to capture the realities of other people in Montreal’s queer community as well. Through conducting a number of interviews and refining his writing technique with the workshops funded by CALQ, Stewart is finally left with a piece that he said he believes tells the stories of the individuals featured “very well.”

The playwright also recognized that the stories explored in his play are just a small portion of the diverse experiences that make up the queer community as a whole. He added, “I also am a believer in intersectionality and striving—as someone who takes up a lot of space or has the capacity to take up a lot of space in life and in society—to subscribe to the mandate of ‘take space to make space.’”

According to Stewart, The History of Sexuality is very much based in reality. The setting is a replication of what attending graduate school in Montreal is like today. It was important to Stewart to not only acknowledge the diversity within the queer community in Montreal, but also to represent the characters in his play as real people living real lives.

“One of my goals with the piece,” he said, “is to present queerness—to present non-normative sexual practices, sexual identities and expressions of gender—as just intimate and honest and real.”

“A lot of media and a lot of art that’s surrounding queerness and queer sexualities and genders these days, I feel is quite sensational,” he added. “[The characters in the play] are just people going through their daily lives. I think it’s important for us to see that.”

The History of Sexuality will be playing at the MainLine Theatre, at 3997 Boul. St-Laurent, from Sept. 21 to 30. Showtime is at 8 p.m. with additional showings at 2 p.m. on Sept. 23 and 30. Tickets are available through the Facebook event and the MainLine Theatre’s website. Prices can vary depending on your financial situation.

Feature photo courtesy of Erika Rosenbaum Photography

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Arts

Battered: Jealousy, violence, love and redemption

In this new play by Arthur Holden, characters both suffer from and enact violence

Battered, a play focusing on the acts of aggression that occur when jealousy seeps into a relationship, opens Oct. 18. I sat down with Arthur Holden, playwright, and Diana Fajrajsl, director, to discuss how it came together.

This two-act play revolves around two couples. In the opening scene, Bobby Lyons (Brett Watson) and his girlfriend Filo (Gitanjali Jain) are angry at each other and it is soon revealed that Filo’s broken arm was an undesired consequence of their latest confrontation. A judge orders Lyons to get anger management counseling, and he starts his treatment with Eleanor (Susan Glover), a psychiatrist.  However, Eleanor is also facing issues with her lover, Frederick (Shawn Campbell).  Throughout the play, Holden said, everyone commits acts of violence but are also its victims. In spite of this, hints of redemption as the play’s central theme are detectable.

Holden said the play’s title represents the various ways in which people commit acts of aggression against each other. “There are times when we do things physically to each other that we shouldn’t do, never intending to cause damage,” he said. According to Holden, aggression can manifest itself emotionally or psychologically, sometimes deliberately or accidentally, even by simple gestures. “People can [also] say things to one another that leave no physical scars, but that change relationships and personalities forever,” he said.

At first glance, it would appear the story is sourced from the ongoing social discourse about violence against women, particularly those that occur in romantic relationships and marriages. However, Holden revealed that the play started out with basing two characters off of his friends, who are actors. Then, he came up with scenes that captured their performance styles.  Holden explained as the play developed, he decided to add another couple and, again, these characters were based on people he knew. “I was really writing for people, rather than about an issue and, as I wrote, I realized that I had a subject that I liked—guilt and violence are things that matter to me.”

According to Holden, Battered does not seek to deliver a message on violence.  “Along the way, I realized that I was writing about something that has political significance—most stories do ultimately … but I like plays that raise questions more than provide answers.”

Fajrajsl said since this is a newly-released play, it was important for her, as the director, to be as mindful and faithful to the author as possible, and not give the audience a sort of pre-digested meal. She said in preparation for this directing role, she read On Aggression by Konrad Lorenz to help enhance her understanding of the difference between the emotionally-charged forms of aggression that humans display, and the instinctual aggression that manifests in animals. “The actors I am pretty much leaving alone since they actually know more about their characters than I do because they did about three workshops of the play,” said Fajrajsl.  Battered was part of Infinitheatre’s 2014 Pipeline series, where the public was invited to offer feedback on the play.

Battered opens on Tuesday Oct. 18 and runs until Nov. 6 at the Rialto Infinite Studio, 5711 ave. du Parc. Student tickets are $20.

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Arts

Swinging through middle age with Wildside’s Delicacy

Salacious play examines the sexual awakening of an older couple

If you enjoy watching theatre that’s sexy, fresh and funny, then Kat Sandler’s Delicacy might have been just what you were after. The 90-minute one-act play was one of several in the 18th annual Wildside Theatre Festival. The show, presented by Theatre Brouhaha of Toronto, played at the Centaur Theatre until Jan. 17.

Delicacy takes place over one evening in a wealthy couple’s living room. The couple, Tanya and Mark, have invited another couple over who they just met a few weeks prior.

As the show begins, it’s immediately evident that Tanya and Mark take a lot of pride in their appearances and in their home. The condo setting is contemporary and simplistic. Almost every piece of furniture and décor is a bright, clean white.  Large canvases splattered with modern art adorn the back wall of the set.

As Tanya and Mark are waiting for the other couple to arrive, Tanya, who is tall and slender, looks very reserved and formal. She circles the living room, fluffing pillows and cleaning specks of dirt off the furniture. Mark is more laid back and almost indifferent to the upcoming evening. He blunders his way through a typical “does this dress make me look fat?” discussion with Tanya, and the two consider calling off the engagement altogether when another woman lets herself into their condo.

Delicacy concluded its run as part of the Wildside festival on Jan 17

Colby is a sudden burst of energy on stage, floating around and examining the condo, which is clearly a different world from the one she’s used to. Colby has a free, hippie-ish look to her. She is very open and says everything that comes to her mind. After a short while, her cool and stylish husband Len enters the scene.

It is slowly revealed that the two couples met each other at a swingers club, where they switched partners for the evening. Tanya and Mark then invited Colby and Len over for a second experience.

The first half of the show is fast, witty and sharp. Sexual puns, accidental racial remarks and generally awkward exchanges take place as the two couples’ lifestyles clash. Tanya is determined to host a mature and sophisticated evening, but despite her attempts, many things go awry.

Towards the end of the show, things dissolve quickly from fun and games into sharing intimate secrets, arguments, and bringing hidden emotions to the surface. Each character discovers something about their partner that they didn’t know before.

By the end of the play, things are left unresolved. The show unearths deep issues in the characters that one would never guess had existed, from looking at them in the beginning.

Sandler wrote and directed the show, and she did some great work with the characters’ movements across the stage. Despite being restricted to the confines of a single room, the scene never felt stale—someone was always moving.

The actors strung everything together with a phenomenal amount of energy, and a fantastic sense of timing and pace. Overall, Delicacy was a finely crafted piece of theatre that offered a fascinating look at the secret lives of married couples.

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Arts

Players’ Theatre takes on exploration of existence

Six Characters in Search of an Author balances the highly intellectual with the stylish

Luigi Pirandello’s Six Characters in Search of an Author is an extremely self-aware meta-theatrical drama whose success relies heavily upon the calibre of several key actors.

The complex cerebral drama, being staged at the McGill Players’ Theatre Nov. 12-15 and 19-22, explores the relationship between authors and art, players and characters.

Written in 1921, this pre-absurdist play uses the “play within a play” structure to blend the real with the imagined in a way that makes us question our own perception of reality.

Player’s Theatre interpretation of Pirandello’s original play uses limited décor elements and creative shadow and light play.

The rough plot involves actors and technicians at a theatre company who are interrupted in the middle of a rehearsal by the entrance of six strange people, claiming to be unfinished characters. The visitors insist on staging their own dramatic narrative and plead with the director to help them realize their story.

This blended family, lead by a patriarch who is filled with remorse and has a tendency to wax philosophical, is set apart from the others by their ‘20s-era fashion, commedia dell’arte-inspired masks and ghostly blue lips.

The Father, played by Nicholas LePage, alternates driving the action forward and going on seemingly endless tangents of existential thought. LePage shines bright in this role, doing a superb job of holding the play’s illogical and verbose fabric together.

Mal Cleary, as the character of the Director, in turn balances the Father’s preaching monologues with his energetic performance and practical, somewhat skeptical approach to the unusual situation.

As the six characters relive their dramatic tale onstage, the actors from the rehearsal become spectators, taking places in the audience and engaging in the action less and less.

While the leads are given plenty of opportunities to show off their acting chops, the script doesn’t allow for much development of the supporting cast who ultimately fade into the background.

The staging is simple and makes use of four large screens that are lit from behind with colourful LEDs to allow for innovative shadow play and easy change of scenery.

While this use of lighting is very creative, the overall design leaves something to be desired. Much of the action takes place in low lighting to the point where key exchanges happen in semi-darkness, while other areas of the stage are needlessly bright.

The play delves into several key questions concerning the creation of art and theatre, the role of actors and the ownership of performance. The intellectual nature of the show may not be suited to every audience’s tastes, but for fans of Pirandello or those interested in existential philosophy, Six Characters in Search of an Author makes for a truly thought-provoking presentation.

Six Characters in Search of an Author runs at the Players’ Theatre Nov. 19 to 22, at 8 p.m. Tickets for students are $6, and $10 for adults. For more information, visit playerstheatre.ca.

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Arts

Get your ‘Speare on with a side of Pulp

Bard Fiction at Mainline Theatre blends Shakespeare and Pulp Fiction in five star production

The only thing better than Pulp Fiction is Pulp Fiction in iambic pentameter.

Bard Fiction is a must-see theatrical version of Quentin Tarantino’s cult classic in Shakespearean English, which ran its Quebec premiere Thursday, Sept. 18, at Mainline Theatre to thunderous applause.

Set in the 17th century where cottage pies replace Big Macs and a stallion replaces Zed’s motorcycle, this hour-long production had the audience whooping, laughing, and breaking out in applause when they heard their favourite lines directly translated into Shakespearean English.

Butch, played by Lucas Chartier, escapes from the would-be rape dungeon and, while trying to decide to save Marsellus or leave him behind, tears at his hair and cries, “TO FLEE, OR NOT TO FLEE.”

Produced by Beyond the Mountain Productions and running at MainLine Theatre from now until Sunday, Sept. 28, this is a production that all Tarantin-attics must see.

Guns are replaced by daggers and sabers, suits boast ruffles and tights, cars become carriages, and the classic Vincent and Mia dance scene begins with a bow and a curtsey.

“I’m relieved. I knew it would do well, but it’s always a pleasure to hear people laugh when they’re supposed to laugh … and this is one of those few venues where you can see the smiles on people’s faces,” said Artistic Director and Production Manager Danielle Caddell.

Caddell is the driving-force behind bringing Bard Fiction to Canada, using her theatre contacts to bring the play first to the Toronto Fringe festival, and now to Montreal.

Mainline Theatre is an intimate venue, with the audience wrapped close around the stage. A flutist in the audience plays most of the music for the production, and Marsellus is often illuminated while sitting in an audience chair to deliver a line, to the delight of audience-members sitting next to him.

Lancelot and three other minor characters are played by Concordia playwright student Laurent McCuaig Pitre.

The cast of nine only had two to three weeks to rehearse said McCuaig, but all actors have previous experience working with Shakespeare.

Still, being such Pulp Fiction fans, the actors didn’t have to work hard to muddle through the meaning of their Shakespearean lines because they knew what the meaning was from the original movie added Chartier, or Butch, the latter having performed in Hamlet and Love Labour’s Lost before.

Non-Shakespearean buffs shouldn’t fret if they didn’t excel in high school English classes though. An argument between Vincent and Jules about the varying intimacies of foot rubs and culingus is still just that, and what words are lost in meaning are made up for in gestures, facial expressions and attitude.

That, and the phrase, “lower lip” isn’t entirely difficult to decipher.

The only recommendation to give is to watch Pulp Fiction before the show so you can cheer loudly when you hear your favourite quotes and insults delivered in beautiful Shakespearean prose, thy poxed whoreson.

Bard Fiction runs every Friday, Saturday and Sunday with varying showtimes till the end of the month. Tickets sell for $12 a pop for students and are available at beyondthemountain.ca

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Arts

German teenagers are sure causing a scandal

Eight-time Tony Award-winning play, Spring Awakening blends drama, dance, and live orchestral rock-music. Photos by Keith Race

“I don’t care if you’ve missed shows I’ve been in, or if you miss any show of mine in the future; this show is the one to see,” Matthew Barker tells The Concordian.

Currently part of the cast of the rock musical Spring Awakening, the Concordia student pretty much echoes what most reviews have been saying about the production since its first performance in 1906: it is a must see.

The play was written by German playwright Frank Wedekind, and was prohibited from the stage up until the beginning of the 20th century. Spring Awakening is the story of Wendla and Melchior, teenagers that undergo a sexual awakening in late 19th century Germany; a time of systemic violence and constrictive societies. The musical explores the burgeoning of puberty and the lives of adolescents dealing with issues such as suicide, violence, abortion and sexuality.

Over 100 years later, these issues still provoke contention and controversy.

According to Quesnel, the music was conceived to heighten emotions in the story, and they give power to the kids more so than the adults. Photos by Keith Race.

“Everything we talk about in the play [are] things we should think about and not things we should be hiding.”However, she believes that these issues are worth expressing.

“There is lots of violence in society too. Art is supposed to be provoking and something that people can relate to,” added sound designer Marc-Antoine Legault.

Speaking of sound, a fully costumed live orchestra directed by David Terriault presents everything from soft to rock-heavy songs, and lyrics that convey wholly what the characters are feeling.

“There is lots of swearing and funny things in the songs, because that is how those adolescents express themselves,” said Barker, who plays Georg.

According to Quesnel, the music was conceived to heighten emotions in the story, and they give power to the kids more so than the adults.

The stage design and set are minimal, so the spectator’s attention is focused on the acting. The same is true for the costumes. They remain simple in accordance with the original play written in 1890. However, set and costume designer Anna Delphino used lighter colours on the clothes worn by the teenage characters, in order to differentiate them from the adult characters. Additionally, makeup and hairstyling is understated, highlighting the nuances in the actor’s expressions, giving prominence to their emotional performances.

Doubtless, it takes a lot of talent and passion from the young actors to perform in a musical which has already won eight Tony Awards. When Barker heard about the auditions for Spring Awakening, he listened to the soundtrack continuously.

“I checked the original broadcast on Youtube, I knew I absolutely wanted to do it, so I picked my best song and I auditioned, and here I am,” he said.

Another current Concordia student, Michael Mercer, said that he learned about plans for recreating the production three months before auditions were announced.

“I saw the show in NYC when I was 16 years old and I knew that someday I wanted to do it,” said Mercer, who plays the role of Ernst.

The outstanding emotional performances given by the cast of Spring Awakening is due to the fact that the characters are relatable.

“I can definitely resonate a lot [with] my character Ernst, who is the young and affable gay one. I was certainly young and affable in high school, so I feel a lot of empathy for my character,” said Mercer.

Barker, whose character Georg is a boy infatuated with his elderly piano teacher’s breasts, feels the same way.

“I can relate to him in the fact that I once was a teenager with a sex drive [that] I didn’t know what to do with. So for me he is a lot of fun to play,” he admitted.

Spring Awakening directors Christopher Moore and Gabrielle Soskin (a Concordia graduate herself) have a lot to be proud of. They managed to perfectly blend comic and dramatic aspects. Some of the scenes make you laugh so loudly that you have to cover your mouth; others bring tears to your eyes.

Although working with two directors might seem challenging, everybody is enjoying this experience. According to Mercer, Soskin and Moore really complement each other.

“Chris [Moore] is taking the main reins and Gab [Soskin] is giving her insights where she sees fit,” he said.

Barker added that, for him, it has been great working with Moore because he treats them like real professionals, not just students.

“He gives us a good amount of responsibility while offering the freedom to do what we want, of course adding his input on whether it fits in the scene or not,” affirmed Mercer.

The product of this full crew is a rich fusion of drama, comedy, music, and dance that is a thrill for the senses.

Spring Awakening is produced in Montreal by Persephone Productions, and runs until Oct. 27 at Calixa-Lavallée Theatre.

Photos by Keith Race

 

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Arts

An italian tale of tradition and identity, told over dinner

Italian family dinners are never short of a spectacle. It is no surprise Canadian playwright Steve Galluccio chose to have all the action in the Centaur Theatre for The St. Léonard Chronicles, which takes place within the confinements of a young Italian couple’s kitchen in their staple St. Léonard duplex.

You better think twice before you move out of St. Léonard. Press photo

Family, pride, heritage and identity are some of the main themes explored through the characters and dialogue.

Directed by Roy Surette, the play explores the Italian community’s need to stick to their roots. Young couple, Terry (Christina Broccolini) and Robert (Guido Cocomello) struggle to break the news to their families that they will be selling their St. Léonard duplex to move into a cottage in Beaconsfield.

Sick of their mundane life in St. Léonard, including the vegetable gardens and the noisy tenant in their duplex, the couple doesn’t want to follow in their parents’ footsteps.

As Robert says, “In St. Leo, it’s all about who has the nicest pavé uni and stocking up on Javel when it goes on special.”

The story turns to the reactions of parents Gina (Dorothee Berryman), Carmine (Michel Perron), Dante (Vittorio Rossi) and Elisa (Ellen David). They are outraged.

“What are you going to feed yourself with in Beaconsfield, Tim Horton’s Lasagna?” Dante asked his son.

In true Italian fashion, one controversial topic brought up at the dinner table spirals into a full-fledged war, and shots are fired from all corners. Love affairs and lies are outed and thrown into the mix. It comes as a bit of a surprise, and while it makes sense, it also feels at times that the plot is moving a little too quickly.

Nonna Dora (Jocelyne Zucco) is the anchor of the ensemble. Coined by her daughter Elisa as having “a touch of dementia,” she delivers the cringe worthy stories and wisdom that Italian grandmothers always have up their sleeves, providing for many humorous moments.

However, her stories of forbidden love back in her hometown of Italy, and her unhappiness in her relationship with her late husband paint a picture of an issue often swept under the rug in Italian families.

The set decor is minimal, with the window to “outside” facing the audience providing a clear view of a St. Léonard duplex. The Italian-English dialogue is not ignored, with an array of Italian swear words being thrown here and there from one cast member to the other, and the use of many common grammatical errors made by Italian-Canadians.

The play relies heavily on many stereotypes, and while it is not overdone, it does dance on the fine line between realistic characters and caricature. However, dialogue about fears of immigrants and racism, the wasting of food, and the respect one must have for a man’s homemade wine blends well within the story.

The play begins with a family dinner, yet it ends with a funeral, all the while taking place in the same kitchen. Tears are shed as the story takes a turn for a more serious second half. The actors show great depth, switching from comedic lines to more heavy material quickly. It would have been nice to see them fleshed out a little more, especially with such a great cast.

Still, Galluccio does a good job at portraying the colorful, loud, resilient and proud (sometimes too proud) nature of the Italian-Montreal community.

The spectacle comes together providing laughter, tears, and self-reflection. One is left thinking about the short time they’ve been given on this planet, and how to surround oneself with love, happiness and family.

The St. Léonard Chronicles will be playing at the Centaur Theatre until Dec. 1. For tickets and more information visit: centaurtheatre.com.

 

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Arts

The voices behind If We Were Birds

If We Were Birds is a modern take on Ovid’s Metamorphoses, a play about breaking all of the natural rules of relationships. Concordia graduates Stefanie Buxton and Clare Schapiro play the parts of chorus women, The Pregnant One and The Dwindling One, who testify against the culture of war and the cycle of violence that relationships create.The Concordian caught up with the ’90s graduates during a preview of the play earlier this week.

The Concordian: This play deals with some pretty heavy material, like sexual violence, murder and rape. Is the aim to educate, to condemn or to raise awareness?

Schapiro: I think it’s about awareness. Because it is the myth about these three characters. And the chorus women are also talking about their experiences, which are more recent than 2,000 years ago. It shows that continuum [of violence]. It’s just a cycle, and we have to break it. This is the 21st century, why aren’t we breaking the cycle? … There’s this incredible scene where Tereus is raping Philomela [his sister in-law] and he explains: he feels it in his teeth, it’s in his blood. [The play is about] trying to understand where that whole mentality comes from. The power and the need to possess, to own, to bite, and to destroy.

When playing the parts of the chorus women, are you affected on a personal level?

Schapiro: I think it’s a piece, because of the physicality of it and because it is a little bit extraordinary, and because of the visuals and the way in which Erin Shields [playwright] has melded all of these different kinds of devices to tell this story, to move it forward. Because it’s a very old story but told in a very contemporary way; of course it affects me personally. It affects me as an artist, it affects me as a woman, it affects me as a mother, it affects me as a neighbour. It affects me in every way, shape and form. And that’s what’s important, because we want theatre to have an impact.

 

What about the light-hearted moments?

Buxton: There’s some really funny stuff in there. The characters, just in the way they are, are hilarious. Even if it is a tyrannical king. What he’s doing, the fact that he finds himself so funny with bad jokes,that in itself is so funny to watch and you’re in this world but you need a bit of that air to come in too. You can’t have it be just ‘bam bam bam’ all the time. It’s good writing.

 

Final thing to add?

Buxton: It’s not something inaccessible. Like say [a] classical text or some kind of sitcom kitchen-sink thing that you just don’t really connect with at all. It’s kind of like going to an awesome concert. Like a full-on show that’s just like, “YEEAAAAHH” for like an hour and 15 minutes, because it’s relentless and, yeah, we’re pretty hard-core, if I do say so myself.

 

The award winning play, If We Were Birds, will play at Centaur Theatre until Oct.19. Students can attend the pay-what-you-can matinees on Oct. 12, 13 and 19.

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Arts

A throwback to jazz’s golden-age

What do Ain’t Misbehavin, Othello, The Seagull, Glengarry Glen Ross, Top Girls and The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz have in common? Aside from being the 2013-14 theatre line-up for the Segal Centre, they all revolve around the deadly themes of power and passion.

Ain’t Misbehavin’ runs at the Segal Centre from Sept. 29 to Oct. 20. Press photo.

The broadway production, Ain’t Misbehavin’, was conceived in 1988 by the veteran radio broadcaster Murray Horwitz, as a musical revue paying tribute to black musicians of the 1920s and ‘30s Harlem Renaissance, especially the zing and swing of Fats Waller’s musical genius.

The Harlem Renaissance was an era of burgeoning creativity and cultural awareness, where hundreds of years of oppression and persecution were expressed through the new sassy and sizzling beats of swing at infamous nightclubs such as The Cotton Club and The Savoy Ballroom. Waller was one of the pioneers of influential jazz music at that time and composed Ain’t Misbehavin in 1929, a song that would not only etch the beginnings of his fame but also the framework for an era long gone.

Now the Segal Centre, in conjunction with Copa de Oro Productions, is bringing Montrealers back to a more bumpin’ time with Ain’t Misbehavin’ The Fats Waller Musical Show, directed by the award-winning Roger Peace. Although this play marks Peace’s 107th production as a writer, director and choreographer, what continues to stick out for him is that there is no plot-driven story.

“It’s a musical review, so we look at each song as its own little story and we build around that,” said Peace. “He [Waller] was a big star in those days in Harlem…where Harlem was Harlem for its speakeasies and the drugs in the dark nightclub corners.” Peace hinted that this aspect will be reflected in the musical as well.

“This joint is jumpin’/It’s really jumpin’/Come in cats an’ check your hats/I mean this joint is jumpin’,” sings the five-cast ensemble dressed to the nines in zoot suits and shimmering dresses. In particular, cast member Aiza Ntibarikure really is jumpin’ high. A 2011 graduate from Dawson College’s professional theatre program, Ntibarikure hasn’t had a moment to settle down yet.

“I never thought I’d be working so hard so early upon graduating! But I consider myself lucky because I’m putting myself out there and following my bliss,” she said.

“Check your weapons at the door/be sure to pay your quarter/Burn your leather on the floor/grab anybody’s daughter,” solos the up-and-coming Jonathan Emile, wearing an impeccable fedora and matching white suit. For Emile, a local hip-hop artist who has collaborated with hip-hop superstars such as KRS1 and Kendrick Lamar, this will be his first professional performance.

“It’s just amazing to push the limits of my creativity and musical ability. Stepping into the theatre world just opens up the dimensions of what I can do,” says Emile, who’s proud to give back to his jazz roots by paying tribute to Waller. “Part of why I’m stepping into this is for my own personal growth…and plus this joint really is jumpin’.”

“I know for certain/The one I love/I through with flirtin’/It’s just you I’m thinking of/Ain’t misbehaving/ I’m saving my love for you.”

This song always invokes a strong feeling of nostalgia in Peace, who advocates that anyone interested in jazz will share in this feeling as well.

“I hope the audience will get into it because Montreal has always been big on jazz, and unfortunately you can’t hear these songs on the radio anymore. The history is in the music, and the music is right here at the Segal Centre.”

Ain’t Misbehavin’ runs at the Segal Centre from Sept. 29 to Oct. 20.

 

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